Jobless claims fall to four-week low in tight labor market

(Bloomberg) – U.S. filings for unemployment benefits fell to a four-week low even amid a partial federal government shutdown, showing healthy demand for workers at the start of the year.

Jobless claims decreased by 17,000 to 216,000 in the week ended Jan. 5, below the 226,000 median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, edged up to 221,750.

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Initial filings by federal employees jumped by 3,831 to 4,760 on an unadjusted basis in the week ended Dec. 29, reflecting the first week of a shutdown which began Dec. 22 and has caused the furlough of thousands of workers.

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A "Now Hiring" sign is displayed during a Job News USA career fair at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. The U.S. Department of Labor is scheduled to release initial jobless claims figures on May 19. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Details on claims by federal employees are reported with a lag, so it may take more time for the closures to be fully reflected in the report. Claims are near an almost five-decade low, signaling a tight labor market and in line with a December payrolls report that showed across-the-board strength in hiring and wages. Filings tend to be volatile around the holidays; last week’s data include New Year’s Day, while the prior week’s filings by federal employees came around Christmas.

Economists monitor jobless claims for a timely signal on labor-market health and the economy. The stock market has turned more volatile amid concerns about the outlook for global growth and the trade war with China, which has weighed on manufacturing.

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Continuing claims, which are reported with a one-week lag, fell by 28,000 to 1.72 million in the week ended Dec. 29. The prior week’s claims were revised to 233,000 from 231,000. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.2%. Puerto Rico estimated claims last week.